I have started a career as software engineer and I just got promoted to management. I am deeply enthusiastic about it and I am very determined to move to upper management during the next 10 years. But it seems that there is a lot more middle managers than directors, vice-presidents and executives; and not only in the software industry, but every industry. So I feel that this move will be extremely challenging. I met middle managers from different industries, aged from 30 to 40 years old, who claimed they weren't learning anything new...

In order to make this move: is a MBA or executive MBA required? Would you advise to work 1 or 2 years at consulting companies like McKinsey? What are the hard and soft skills required and how to acquire them? How and what to keep learning after 30 years old? And what do you need specifically to make this move in the software industry?

  • 2
    Not an answer, but illustration of the principipal behind most promotions : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle
    – Thorst
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 9:15
  • Is this "Peter principle" verified in reality? Or is it just a joke?
    – Brainless
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 9:50
  • 2
    @Brainless The good thing about good Wikipedia articles is they have links to back up their claims. Follow the links on the linked article to decide for yourself what to make of the claims.
    – Brandin
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 10:12
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    This really depends on the company. Different companies have very different strategies for choosing who to promote to which position.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 10:13
  • 3
    @Brainless If you cannot recognize Peter principle at work around you, then you're not ready for a career. Worse, you insist on calling move from an engineer to a manager "promotion", which it's not. Peter would call it "lateral arabesque". The only thing you got right is that the move will be difficult - that's because upper and lower management deal with completely different issues.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 10:34

1 Answer 1


Different companies have very different strategies for how to choose people for promotions. Among the many factors which might or might not play a role are:

  • Formal qualifications. There are companies which don't promote anyone who doesn't have the right educational achievements. Sometimes they also prefer specific institutions or require good grades, sometimes it's just the paper slip that counts.
  • Performance in the current role. Do a good job, and you are rewarded with promotion after promotion until you have a job your are underqualified for. Then you stay there.
  • Subjective impression of your leadership skills. See also the question "Why is it important to gain visibility in the workplace?"
  • Having good personal relations with the right people. Some organizations are lead by cliques of friends who rope each other into the right positions. When you happen to be in such a company, sucking up to the right people is the only way to advance.
  • Taking part in internal career programs. Some companies have specific training programs to assess and train employees interested in leadership positions.
  • Performance during a strictly formalized application process with tests, interviews and assessment centers.
  • Discrimination against or favoritism for certain minorities. In theory this is often illegal but in reality it is still happening. No matter how awesome your management skills are, when you are, for example, a black, muslim woman in a company lead by chauvinistic, christian, white-supremacists, they will always find a reason to not promote you (or promote you to somewhere where you are deemed to fail).
  • Just plain luck

We can not tell you how your company prioritizes these factors. You need to find that out on your own by getting into contact with the career decision makers in your company.

  • You did not need to provide an example of what you meant by "where you are". You would have been better off explaining that if you are a minority in a workplace, due to the human psychology of putting more trust in those who are more closely like yourself, you are less likely to be picked for a promotion. I find your references insulting. Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 1:42

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